Happy 22nd Birthday. Yeah. It's Hetalia. You're probably not surprised. Suck it up either way. XD
To everyone else...
Yeah. So. Fic about execution. Tasteful stuff. All eight "main" characters – North Italy, Germany, Japan, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia – have their own section; all are also in chronological historical order (although the first three are kind of interchangeable, I guess).
No apparent pairings, though I guess you can read ItalyxGermany and UKUS into it if you really want.
On the subject of Italy... You may have noticed that he is the character listed in the description. He's not the main character – that is, it's not about him. He's just in it the most.
Why We Watch
It had not all been days spent painting in the sun.
Sometimes his songs were silenced by the jeers of bloodthirsty men, by the sounds of nails being hammered clumsily through flesh and bone into jagged wood, by the groans of the condemned and the dying hanging on humid, days-old air.
It was not an unusual method of execution in those days – cruel, though, as any other.
Flies buzzed and crows pecked and great, grand old Rome looked at the scattered sea of crude wooden crosses, some left there for weeks, complete with their sagging grisly remains.
"This is how we maintain order; God knows it's the only way," he said; and Italy buried his face in his grandfather's cloak and wept.
It was tradition for tradition's sake. China was young then, but the importance of upholding ritual was neither new nor novel to him. He had listened and learned from Laozi and from Confucius. Men had duties and duties must be upheld by men.
A highly-respected member of the emperor's court had died. Old age, natural causes. He had died with dignity in his chamber with other lords and ladies around him. However, such a good and upholding old man could not be expected to endure the journey from this life to the next alone – he would need his faithful servants beyond this plane of existence, that much was certain, and so it must be that they should accompany him.
Stripped almost bare, one by one, each of the trembling servants was taken from the line, swiftly beheaded and placed into the pit prepared for them. Some met their fate with steely resolve, others sobbed and begged for their lives, but each of them had their duty, and duty was to be obeyed.
China believed this that day as much as on any other, and he would later teach that unto those who became his students in turn.
Perhaps it could be blamed on his teacher, but Japan (too) did not believe that the integrity of life should compromise that of honour.
He had been present at a great many seppuku rituals prior to this one. The varying reasons for samurai committing the act were of little consequence to him. Whether it was to conceal shame, to avoid capture by an enemy or simply a death sentence, either punishment or test of loyalty, the steps of the act and the care applied to them were ever the same.
The few final strokes and the brush came back from the paper, the wet ink glistening as the man bowed low to his own death poem. He took up his carefully-wrapped wakizashi and opened his kimono; behind him, his chosen kaishaku raised his own sword, ready for the ritual beheading.
Japan, in white with embroidered sakura blossoms, sipped at his tea with his dark eyes down; watching the arching spatter of the red on the tatami mats though his thick lashes with little interest but a lot of pride.
1606 and both the crowd and the crown wanted blood. England's torture chamber of a tower was one thing, good for locking away great explorers and little princes who one day vanished without a trace and queens of every kind, adulterous and future and Scottish.
This man, for one, had seen within those walls, had felt the rack and been subjected to the questions of his torturers. Whether he spilled or was silent hardly mattered. He had not been the leader, but instead the unfortunate straggler they had caught in the basement of Parliament back in November. His crime was treason against king and country and Westminster was the stage for the public performance of his punishment.
Hanging, drawing and quartering. Gruesome, rare and the penalty for high treason. The crowds clamoured and jostled and fought for prime seating; the first man, the one who took the blame and became the icon, was led up the steps to the scaffold. How they cried for his blood and for his head. How they wanted him to choke on the rope. How they wanted him to suffer being disembowelled and emasculated whilst still alive. How greedily they wanted to take pleasure in his destruction, that filthy sinning Catholic who had gone against the king of England and the Church of England—
He jumped off the ladder and broke his neck. England watched the swing and twitch of the wretched rebel with his arms folded and listened to the angry, disappointed screams of the crowds, to their chants of "God save the king! God save England!".
Torn in two by religion, by Catholics and Protestants who couldn't see eye to eye, England turned to his (Protestant) king and asked "But is it for God?".
He knew fear and he knew superstition. He knew about fairies and unicorns and ghosts because England was full of stories about them and that was where he had learned most of the things he knew anyway, whether he cared for them or not.
Perhaps he could not claim to be an expert on real magic (whatever that was, if it even existed), but he knew fakery when he saw it. He knew panic and hysteria and immense overreaction when he saw it.
He was alone when it happened, separated by miles and miles of Atlantic Sea from England, who might have known how to handle it better than he (but not necessarily).
He saw them accuse one another to save themselves; he saw them admit to making pacts with the Devil and flying on broomsticks and drinking the blood of babies; he saw them imprisoned and hanged and crushed to death for refusing to confess.
He saw and they saw but nobody listened.
He was very young, and though the irony of it all was that two children had started it to begin with, he didn't know what to do, didn't know how to make himself and what he had learned from England's history heard.
There were already stories circulating – legends created by backstreet gossip. Stories about a man in red who rescued overthrown aristocrats from the guillotine. Suspicions about the true purpose of the revolution. What did it matter when the rich ran like rats and the poor didn't eat cake?
This was revolution, and such for France's sake, even if France himself was not entirely sure if it really was. He had seen his monarchy toppled like a deck of cards by the fury of the long-abused, by the poor and the hungry and the downtrodden. Mobs fought and blood ran in the streets and they said it was for his sake.
(Earlier he had pushed back her gold hair and kissed her mouth; he had loosened her corset and ran his nails over the pearls and gems at her throat; he had lifted her skirts and kissed her thighs and she had whispered "Viva la France" through parted red lips—)
He shunned the ironic fad of tying a red ribbon about the throat and stopped drinking wine for a while because it reminded him. Everything was much too red these days – even the blade.
Especially the blade.
He had heard France lament; and though it was hardly the first time he had seen bloodshed, this was an entirely new kind of pain.
Indeed, he had just come from bloodshed, leaving England and France to deal with Germany while he dealt with problems of his own. He had heard them both lament about revolution, England because he'd been on the receiving end of it and France because he'd been in the middle of it.
This was much the same – those who had nothing wanted something, wanted what the rich had and kept from them via the barriers of birth and class. He had been awash with it, submerged beneath the suffocating politics that forcefully bled through the cracks that seemed wider and wider these days. He had heard about the notions of Communism and the rumours about the Mad Monk; he heard Anastasia laugh on the stairs with her sisters without a single thought or fear of Bolsheviks in her pretty head.
He had not been deaf. He had heard.
Afterwards he looked at the line of bullet-holes in the wall and remembered the sound of each of them. His, hers, his, hers, hers, hers.
Germany stood at the sink, hands braced on the dirty porcelain, shivering. His mouth was still sour and his body still heaved.
Parts of him didn't agree. Had never agreed. Parts of him had suffered for it.
It didn't have to go this far.
Blonde hair. Blue eyes. He looked up at himself in the mirror; and then looked aside, at the figure in the reflection behind him.
Auburn hair. Amber eyes. Italy had shrank back, pale and horrified, all semblance of love and admiration drained right out of him alongside the colour in his face. He had watched but he hadn't seen.
Not until now.
Germany looked away again and bowed his head. It wasn't over yet, either way.
Italy sank against the wall and closed his eyes.
"You didn't have to play God," he whispered.
He wasn't crying.
Germany had surrendered and Japan had surrendered and Italy had stood back and watched.
He had watched America, the youngest amongst them, come back, looking like he had just heaved his guts – looking like Germany had that day, pale and shaking with blonde hair and blue eyes.
He had watched England wrap his arms around him and rock him like a child whilst he sobbed; said nothing, only listened, when America had lifted his head from England's shoulder just long enough to cough out "It was the only way, God knows it was the only way to end it—".
Italy drew a sharp breath. England looked up at him, America still folded into his chest and suddenly seeming impossibly small.
"You knew," England said accusingly, gathering America closer still as though he would not have him judged by those wide amber eyes.
"Yes," Italy agreed. He sat down and pulled his knees up to his chin.
He looked at England and America; then France and China and Russia and Canada.
"We all knew," Canada said gently.
"Not that," China corrected quietly. "He meant—"
"That it would have to end with something like this," France finished with a sigh.
"Regardless of whether it was for the best or not," Russia added, his tone cool and somewhat absent.
"After all, this is why we watch," England – the first of them to declare war – said. "So that we learn."
"No," Italy replied, exhausted and weak but suddenly strangely defiant. "We have watched for centuries and it still came to this." He buried his face in his knees. "God knows we never learn."
In case anyone is confused on getting down here...
Italy's, China's and Japan's segments were all pretty vague and did not refer to specific examples of executions in history; from England's onwards, all are actual events. England's was the execution of Guy Fawkes and other members of the Gunpowder Plot, America's was the Salem Witch Trials, France's was the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, Russia's was the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918, Germany's was the Holocaust and the final part was the aftermath of the United States using the atomic bombs on Japan to end WWII.
On those two final parts:
Okay. So. The Holocaust. If I have any issue with Hetalia (and I do), this is it. Obviously the Holocaust was not the only atrocity to happen in WWII and the period directly before it and honestly Hetalia glosses over the lot of them, Kristallnacht and Pearl Harbour and the Blitz and the Rape of Nanking and, yes, the atomic bombings and a hundred other horrible things that happened and I'm not going to jump down anyone's throat over it, but it's all very well for us to laugh ourselves breathless at Hetalia and squee over how cute Poland and Lithuania are together and whatnot and that's mostly because it does gloss over those kinds of things. Given the nature of the series and the approach it takes, that is probably for the best. And frankly, when I was writing this, I did have a serious feeling of 'Don't go there' when it came to writing those final two parts, but... well, this fic is of a serious nature, and those are serious things, so I wrote them. I wasn't trying to belittle them for the sake of some crummy fanfiction, and it's certainly true that things like that have no place being mentioned alongside England and America spacking about which of them has worse food, but...
Okay, well, now it sounds like I'm trying to defend myself or justify why I did it. I'm not. I just felt like in a fic like this it might actually be worse to act like those things never happened, especially since Hetalia is primarily set during WWII. Because they did happen. And they were very serious.
As to why Italy was with the Allies in the final scene: In 1943, the Allied Powers succeeded in invading Italy and Italy surrendered, signing an armistice with the Allies. Later Italy declared war on both Germany and Japan, technically switching sides.
(I don't think Hetalia will do that "storyline", somehow.)
Further notes on England's segment: Guy Fawkes? If you're not British, you might not know who he is, but if you've seen V for Vendetta, you should (even though that movie... kind of... ugh, never mind...). Basically there was a bunch of Catholics who didn't much like Protestant James I waltzing his way down from Scotland after they'd put up with Protestant Elizabeth I and they decided they'd blow both Parliament and Jim sky high to rid themselves of the problem. It failed, they were caught, and now every 5th November people in the UK set off fireworks... which is highly ironic. O.o Other "Easter eggs" in England's were the references to the Tower of London and some of its famous prisoners: "great explorers" (Sir Walter Raleigh), "little princes..." (the Princes in the Tower), and three kinds of queen, "adulterous" (Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife), "future" (Elizabeth I herself, who was also Anne Boleyn's daughter) and "Scottish" (Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth's cousin and James I's mother).
And on America's: Like Italy in his segment, America is meant to be a little kid in his, maybe about 11 or 12. The reason for this and for the mentioning of being separated from England/wishing that England was there is because the Salem Witch Trials took place in the early 1690s – America, of course, did not become independent until almost a century later. Additionally, the mentioning of England "maybe knowing how to handle it better than him (but not necessarily)" was a reference to the equally-hysterical witch-hunts that took place in Britain earlier in the century (during the 1640s in England – particularly in Essex – and the 1660s in Scotland).
The blonde woman in France's section was no-one in particular. It was just France being France. XD
w00t for Canada! XD He didn't get his own section, though. Oh well, at least people noticed him – China actually spoke to him. Sort of.
Italy is so depressed in this he might (rightfully) be classed as "massively OOC". NEVER MIND.
Narroch, I hope you liked it. Haha. No Prussia, though. Maybe next time (but probably not).